The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday voted to reject a bill, initiated by the Jewish Home party, that sought to block any further release of Palestinian prisoners. The vote came hours before the cabinet was set to finalize a list of 26 inmates to be released this week.
The ministers voted 8-5 to reject the bill, which was sponsored by Jewish Home’s MK Orit Strock. Ministers from the Jewish Home and Yisrael Beytenu parties voted in favor of the bill, while ministers from the Likud, Yesh Atid, and Hatnua parties voted against.
“This is a sad day for the struggle against terrorism in Israel,” Jewish Home said in a statement after the vote. “We will continue to campaign with all our might against the release of murderers, and we are very sorry and dismayed that Likud ministers did not support a bill that would have put an end to releasing murderers.”
The party’s decision to push forward with the bill drew harsh criticism from Likud ministers and other coalition partners.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua), who is heading off negotiations with the Palestinians, took a snipe at Jewish Home and said that the committee vote shows which coalition parties truly had the nation’s needs at heart.
“Today it has once again been made clear that the government, in contrast to one of its member parties, is acting in the national interest and not according to the instructions of the rabbis in the West Bank,” she said.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) denounced the Jewish Home ministers for not toeing the government line.
“You are responsible just like all the other members of the government,” he said to Pensioners Minister Uri Orbach (Jewish Home). “If you don’t like it, you can resign.”
Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of Likud ministers that they must honor government decisions on releasing Palestinian prisoners, even when they are difficult to stomach.
“We cannot keep on changing our position,” Netanyahu said. “We are interested in an arrangement with the Palestinians, primarily to ensure our security.”
A ministerial committee headed by Netanyahu was set on Sunday evening to approve the names of 26 Palestinian prisoners to go free on Tuesday. The planned releases constitute the second phase of a four-stage prisoner release deal, agreed upon as part of ongoing US-brokered peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.
The releases would be accompanied by the announcement of new plans for West Bank settlement construction, a senior Israeli official said.
Netanyahu plans to release the prisoners on schedule despite pressure from the right, attorney Yitzhak Molcho, the prime minister’s representative to the peace talks, has been assuring Palestinian and American officials in recent days.
In July, Israel agreed to the four-phase release of 104 prisoners, many of whom were convicted of brutal murders, serving sentences for acts of terror committed before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Twenty-six prisoners were released in the first wave on August 13, just after talks started.
The deal was intended as a sign of good faith ahead of the renewed American-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which began in August.